This week, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough joined the chorus of those decrying the IRS for targeting Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny in applying for nonprofit status. “You can’t allow the government to tread on political speech,” Scarborough said. “The Internal Revenue Service — the taxman — to go after their political beliefs. … I can’t imagine much worse than this,” he added.
Targeting nonprofit groups because of their political beliefs is wrong — pretty much everyone agrees on that. So today’s Scarborough must be outraged by his 2003 self, which gave this monologue on his show “Scarborough Country” on July 13, 2003:
The leader of the NAACP bashes President Bush and the Republican Party. Why is this clearly partisan group still being funded by your tax dollars? [...]
[T]he NAACP continues to get a free ride off of taxpayers because of the tax-exempt status that’s conferred to them by our federal government, now, this despite the fact the NAACP produced and ran the most vicious campaign attack ad in the history of televised presidential campaign. [...]
As Americans, NAACP members are free to speak their mind any time, day or night. But they shouldn’t be getting a tax-free ride on the backs of hard-working Americans who don’t get such preferential treatment. President Bush and members of Congress should have the guts to yank the tax-exempt status away from these left-wing activists. And while they’re at it, take away the tax exempt status of any right-wing activist who thumb their noses at the law as brazenly as does the NAACP.
In a broad sense, Scarborough was right. Blatantly political groups should not be protected by a tax-exempt status that lets them conceal their donors (even official political groups, organized under section 527 of the tax code, are tax-exempt, but they are regulated by the FEC and have to disclose lots of information).
But at least the NAACP has a clear social mission outside of politics. It’s impossible to say the same of many of the 510(c)4 groups like the ones the IRS targeted. For instance, what does the Karl Rove-linked Crossroads GPS do aside from run ads attacking Democrats? Not much.
Ironically, Scarborough was trying to argue in his 2003 monologue that the IRS used a double standard in questioning the tax-exempt status of the Christian Coalition but not the NAACP. The IRS and the Christian-right group fought a protracted legal battle over its tax-exempt status, while the tax agency did open an investigation into the NAACP after the 2004 election.
In 2000, a number of lawmakers, including Scarborough, a former Florida Republican congressman, along with Sen. Susan Collins and former Sen. Strom Thurmond forwarded requests from constituents to the IRS asking that the agency look into the NAACP’s tax-exempt status. The lawmakers did not make the request themselves.